SOUTH BEND -- Gunner Kiel was almost hard to spot during his first set
of warm-up drills at Notre Dame -- even with a red jersey on, even
wearing uniform No. 1.
But two lines over, running back Cierre Wood was dancing, high-fiving
and gyrating between each skip and stretch -- pulling the focus away
from the latest Irish prodigy.
Eventually, Wood did settle into his practice routine and Kiel did
settle into making a solid first impression.
"He's a very talented young man," said Irish third-year coach Brian
Kelly after the first session of spring practice that culminates with
the April 21 Blue-Gold Game. "And he has something the other three
quarterback don't have -- that's (being) 6-foot-4. When you've got that
size, it allows you to see some things."
The early-enrolled freshman is both the tallest and the youngest of
the four QBs competing for the starting job. He's also the one who
arrived at ND with the plushest recruiting résumé.
"For him, it's just understanding the language right now," Kelly said
of Kiel's challenges. "Right now, that's a bit overwhelming for him,
but when he can get comfortable, he's got all the tools.
"Now it's going to be how much can he learn to get him to the point
where he can really be in there. And, look, he's asking about what
time film study is."
When Kelly reminded Kiel that there's a 20-hour limit on mandatory
football activities and that film study was purely voluntary, the
Columbus, Ind., product didn't hesitate.
"He goes, 'I'll be there,'" Kelly related. "So you can tell early on
this is going to be a guy who spends the time watching film and doing
Kelly and his coaching staff are using spring practice to experiment
with how to deal with the new college rules regarding kickoffs and
Kickoffs will now take place at the 35-yard line instead of the 30, a
rule put in place to theoretically decrease the collisions that take
place during a kick runback.
But there are other factors. Players used to be able to line up 11
yards behind the kicker and get a running start. Now they're five
yards behind the kicker and static.
The natural assumption is that touchbacks will increase, and they
likely will. But since touchbacks will now come out to the 25 instead
of the 20, Kelly is looking at other scenarios.
"It might be that we look to get more hang time on our kickoffs than
per se kicking it out," he said of a strategy to pin the opponent
inside the 20 rather than giving up 25 yards on the touchback.
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, in trying to inspire his
linebackers Wednesday to use their hands, started spitting out names
of famous boxers, but quickly hit a wall.
"You're Floyd Mayweather. You're Sugar Ray Leonard," Diaco implored
before pausing. "For the guys old enough to remember who he is."
nþIn the way-too-early department, it still was interesting to see who
Kelly rolled out as his first-team right guard and right tackle on day
one of practice, since both those jobs are open.
Junior-to-be Christian Lombard, who spent his first two seasons at ND
as a back-up tackle, was the right guard. Classmate Tate Nichols was
the right tackle.
nþFor those who are wondering, the six fifth-year senior candidates
have been officially approved by Notre Dame's Faculty Board on
Athletics. Those players are defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore,
safeties Jamoris Slaughter and Dan McCarthy, center Braxston Cave,
guard/center Mike Golic Jr., and wide receiver John Goodman.
"There was a lot of speculation. I was trying to push out the
negativity and trying to have a positive mind-set about it," Goodman
said about not knowing during last season whether he'd be invited
back. "The whole time, I was working for that fifth year, because I
wanted to play another year."
nþSometimes being a former journalism major and doing math don't mix.
In Tuesday's Tribune, I shaved 10 years off Frank Tripucka's life.
He's actually 84.